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Baseball and technology have always created the conditions for careful partners.

For five years in the 1930s, as broadcasting became more and more popular, all three New York teams — the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers — banned live coverage of their games because of concerns about the new media Attendance will be reduced. In 1988, when the Chicago Cubs added lighting to Wrigley Field, freeing them from generations of games that were only played during the day, fans rose to their feet. When calls for electronic balls and strikes were made, it was the referee’s turn to complain.

Other sports may change, but by and large, baseball has become a business that has remained the same.

With the installation of restricted instant replay in 2008, and the expansion of replay in 2014, the game temporarily entered the digital age. But adding cameras to every ballpark and video monitors to every clubhouse opens the door to an unintended consequence: electronic cheating.

The 2017 Houston Astros brazenly stepped through that door and developed an elaborate system of sign-stealing that helped them win the World Series. When the system was revealed to the public two years later, it resulted in dismissals, suspensions, and ultimately permanent damage to the championship.

Nothing inspires action in baseball more than a scandal—after all, the Office of the Commissioner was created when baseball was dealing with the 1919 Black Sox scandal. This season, MLB has taken a giant leap away from the taint of sign-stealing with the introduction of the PitchCom, a receiver-controlled device that allows him to silently communicate with pitchers about upcoming pitches – Information is shared simultaneously with three other players on the field via the earpiece on the chinstrap.

The idea is simple: If baseball can eliminate the old-fashioned pitching shout, in which a catcher flashes a sign at a pitcher with his finger, it will be harder for other teams to steal those signs. There have been a few hiccups, equipment won’t work, or pitchers can’t hear, but so far this season, everyone in baseball seems to agree that PitchCom, like it or not, is working.

Carlos Correa, a shortstop for the Minnesota Twins who has long served as the unofficial, unapologetic spokesman for the 2017 Astros, went so far as to say the tool would frustrate the systemic nature of his old team cheating.

“I think so,” Correa said. “Because there is no sign of it right now.”

However, not all pitchers are on board.

Max Scherzer, the New York Mets ace and the highest-paid player in baseball this season, tried out PitchCom for the first time late last month against the Yankees and had conflicting thoughts.

“It works,” he said. “Useful? Yes. But I also think it should be illegal.”

Scherzer even suggested that by eliminating signal stealing, the game would lose something.

“It’s part of baseball, trying to decipher someone’s signs,” Scherzer said. “Does it have the intent it wants to clean up the game a little bit?” he said of PitchCom. “Yeah. But I also feel like it takes away part of the game.”

Scherzer’s comments drew mixed reactions from peers. Seattle rescuer Paul Seward called them “a little naive” and “a little hypocritical.” Minnesota starter Sonny Gray said he agreed with Scherzer in theory, “but my counter-argument is that when you do the gesture sequence at the second base runner, your team will It breaks down as the game continues.”

Continuing his skepticism, Sewald said of Scherzer: “I have a really good feeling that he’s worked on a signal-stealing team or two.”

Whether true or not, Sewald’s suggestion represents a common perception in many games: Multiple managers say some clubs use a dozen or more staff members to study videos and swipe signs. Because it was conducted in secrecy, there was also a sense of paranoia within the league, where even innocent people are now presumed guilty.

“I think we all know that,” Colorado state manager Bud Black said. “We know that some front offices have more manpower than others.”

The belief that signal stealing is rampant has led to widespread use of PitchCom, perhaps sooner than many thought. That’s good news for MLB’s top executives.

“It’s optional, and the best evidence is probably that all 30 clubs are using it now,” said Morgan Sword, executive vice president of baseball for MLB. “It removes the significant problem of flag stealing in the game. But, secondly, it actually speeds up the game. Not having to go through multiple sets of flags with a base runner, the speed is a little bit better.”

The question then becomes, what do we lose in order to realize these gains?

While code-breaking is as old as sports itself, technology’s incursion into what has been a tedious pastoral game for more than a century has sparked a bitter cultural clash. As long as it was committed by someone on the field, as long as it was a signal of theft committed by someone on the field, it was always accepted by those who played. But when technology is used as an aid in real time, the unwritten (and now written) rules of the game are immediately presented.

Drawing clear lines is important in an age when computer programs are so complex that algorithms can tell by the way he holds a glove whether a pitcher is going to throw a fastball or a slider.

“When you take advantage of people who don’t play the game, for me, at least personally, I have a problem with that,” San Diego manager Bob Melvin said.

Most agree that there is a nuance between technology improving a current product and ultimately changing its integrity. Getting them to agree on the exact location of the line is another thing.

“I wish there was no video technology or anything,” said Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu.

Sword said PitchCom is an example of technology being able to “produce a version more like a baseball from decades ago” because it “eliminates the most recent threat.”

“I think that’s how the world is going,” Black said. “And we are part of the world.”

More technology is coming. There’s a pitching clock on the deck that’s being tested in the minor leagues, and according to Sword, it’s “very promising” in achieving its intended goal: shortening the game. Expected to be implemented soon in the majors, pitchers must pitch within the allotted time — at AAA, within 14 seconds when no one is on the bases, and when the runners are at the bases Pitch within 19 seconds. on board.

In general, pitchers are less enthusiastic about pitch clocks than they are about PitchCom.

“Ninety percent of baseball games are anticipation of really cool things that are going to happen, and you get flashes that really cool things are happening,” said Daniel Budd, near the Colorado Rockies. “But you don’t know when they’re coming, you don’t know which court it’s happening on. Especially with a close ninth and everyone’s on the edge of their seats, do you want to rush through? There’s a lot of good in life. Things you don’t want to rush. You enjoy. You savor. For me, one is the end of the game.”

Perhaps the most fundamental change, though, is the automatic strike zone — a robot referee in Mandarin. Commissioner Rob Manfred said earlier this summer that he hoped to have such a system in place by 2024. Automatic calling is an abomination to umpires who think it infringes on their judgment, and to catchers who specialize in pitching framing, the art of taking a pitch and showing it as if it’s hitting District, even if it’s not.

“I don’t think it should have happened,” said Yankees receiver Jose Trevino, perhaps the best pitcher in the game. “There’s a lot of people who’ve been through this game, and a lot of people who’ve been through the ball for a living, being a great game-leader, being a great defensive catcher.”

With so-called robotic referees, the skills that many catchers struggle to master will be rendered useless, Trevino said.

“You’re just going to be back there blocking and throwing and calling the game,” he said, adding that could affect the financial ability of some catchers.

But that argument is for another day. PitchCom is this year’s new toy, and aside from the obvious, it smooths things out in unexpected areas. It can be programmed in any language, so it provides a bridge between pitchers and catchers. And, as Budd puts it: “I don’t have very good eyes. I can stare at the signs, but it just makes it easier for the signs to stick to my ear.”

Opinions will always vary, but one thing everyone agrees on is that technological intrusion will continue.

“It will continue,” Correa said. “Soon, we’ll have bots playing shortstop.”

James Wagner and Gary Phillips Contribution report.



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